As the economy continues to dwindle, more and more East Valley motorists are deciding to repair their older vehicles rather than buying new wheels, according to auto repair experts.
Alan Tarr, executive director of Neighborhood Auto Repair Professionals Network, said the 23 independently owned repair shops he represents in the Valley are all steadily increasing business.
"People are paying to keep their cars up and running rather than spending a lot of money on a new car," Tarr said.
As a result, new car and truck sales are shrinking.
Knox Ramsey, president of the Valley Association of Automobile Dealers, said new vehicle sales, especially gas-consuming SUVs and pickups, have steadily dropped in Arizona and nationwide.
"The first six months of this year compared with the first six months of last year shows a drop in new vehicle sales of 25 percent in the Valley," said Ramsey, whose association represents 160 Valley dealerships.
"We don't expect any increase for the remainder of the year, but we think it will inch up a bit probably next year as consumer confidence gradually increases," he said.
Cars being repaired at NARPRO shops are between four and 12 years old on average and have between 70,000 and 200,000 miles, Tarr said.
Christina Kuhr of Queen Creek, whose 1990 Honda has accumulated 140,000 miles, is like many others who have decided to repair instead of replace.
"It not only gets good gas mileage, but it's an emotional and economic issue," said Kuhr, who regularly brings her Honda to Ross Grainger's Maaco Collision Repair & Auto Painting garage at 434 E. Main St. in Mesa.
"I've driven Shilo, that's my Honda's name, for 18 years and I don't want to spend a lot of money to replace her," Kuhr said.
Grainger said his business - particularly repairs of older models - has increased in the last few months.
"People are repairing and touching up their older cars rather than spending big bucks on a new car," Granger said. "It's the market."
Maaco, one of the nation's largest auto repair operations that nationally fixes more than 12,000 vehicles a week, is among the busiest in the Valley, according to David Lapps, president of the franchiser.
"It's making more financial sense for consumers to repair older vehicles instead of purchasing new ones where they would have to worry about expensive monthly car payments," Lapps said.
The uptick in auto repairs is evident at the more than 400 independently owned shops in Arizona, said Luz A. Rubio, executive director of the Automotive Service Association of Arizona.
"All of our shops are getting busier," said Rubio. "Our customers are getting essential work done, like repairs ... not getting small dents fixed."
Linda Gorman, AAA Arizona public affairs manager, said the automobile club experienced an increase in towing service starting several months ago as motorists delayed repairing their vehicles and they broke down.
"We're seeing more people repairing their vehicles instead of buying new ones, but they're also waiting longer before they spend the money to fix them," Gorman said.
Gorman said she recently paid $1,100 to repair her 2003 vehicle, echoing the trend.
"I didn't want to spend thousands more for a new car," she said.